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Digging Deeper: An interview with Marc Davis (Black Pegasus)

A stalwart of the Chicago scene since the ‘80s, Marc Davis has been tirelessly carving out a name for himself as a respected DJ, producer, record label boss and collector for nearly four decades.

One of the first of the Windy City locals to be recognised for his eclectic approach to DJing, Marc effortlessly blends a global sound palette, taking in choice cuts from Brazil, Africa, jazz fusion, house, soul and disco, whilst mixing it together Chicago style.

Harnessing that deep wealth of knowledge and experience, Marc has put out a string of sought-after edits of rare records he’s found on dusty digging trips or through his connections. A very fruitful working relationship with Mr Bongo has developed. Together with his good friend Sadar Bahar he released Disco Gospel edits Vol 1 last year, was pivotal in surfacing and editing unreleased Don Blackman tracks for a 7”, and this year he continues his revered Chi Talo series on our label. We sat down with Marc to chat all things Chicago, coming up as DJ in the ‘80s and how he goes about sourcing those hard-to-find cuts.

What was it like growing up in Chicago?

Growing up in Chicago was great! I come from a loving home and loving parents and brother. I grew up in the Calumet Heights / Pill Hill area on the Southeast side of the city, in-between 87th Street and 93rd Street.

The area was predominantly middle class surrounded by homeowners with well-kept lawns, but it also had a street element to it as well. There were gangs so you had to know how to carry yourself. It was also known for playing sports, parties and a lot of DJs. That's how I got into DJing. There were legendary DJs in my area, some you may have heard of and some you may not have.

Steve "Silk" Hurley, Eric "ET" Taylor, Tony "Smooth" Smith, Frank "Fearless" Washington, Chico Frye, David Boone, Michael "LiL Boo" Mills, Steve "Mixing" Mathis, Jahmal Anderson, Lionel "Funky" Floyd to name just a few.

What were your musical influences in your formative years?

My family gave me my first exposure to music. My Dad played a lot of jazz and had an extensive record collection. He also had a lot of African American musical knowledge. He played everything in the house from Charlie Parker to Ahmad Jahmal.

My Dad's brother, my uncle, the late James Davis was a modern soul producer. He owned an independent record label called Im-Hotep Records and had African Bag Productions out in Harlem, New York. He produced albums for legendary percussionists "Big Black" as well as Afro Centric spoken word Jazz fusion albums by Roy Brooks and The Artistic Truth. I saw and heard these records in my house at a young age and always knew the stories behind them.

My mother bought 7”s of soul and disco and played them early in the morning while I got dressed in grammar school. She played Stacey Lattisaw to Teena Marie to Teddy Pendergrass. These are fond memories of me, first hearing and later on touching vinyl.

My parents would take me to Metro Music store on 87th Street off Stony Island and I would buy records. One of my first records was Devo's ‘Whip It’ on 7”. When I got a bit older, I would go to Imports Etc and Loop Records to get a lot of joints.

Chicago has such a rich musical history not least with the explosion of house music and greats like Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy. What do you think sets Chicago apart?

Chicago is caught in the middle between the east coast and west coast, so we always got a bit of both flavours. It also has a rich record label history especially during the ‘60s and ‘70s. You had labels like Chess Records to Curtom and a range of others. Chicago was also a hub for legendary artists performing at their beginnings. They were trying to create a buzz performing at venues on the Southside of the city. Sun Ra, Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, all were either born in Chicago and or came to Chicago to get their feet wet.

So, when Frankie Knuckles moved to Chicago from New York and linked up with Robert Williams to start his residency at the Warehouse it was an easy transition because there was an audience and a scene into disco and pre-house music. The same with Robert Williams linking up with Ron Hardy. The crowd had already been deeply rooted into great sounding Black music. Sometimes it seems as though Chicago is in its own bubble with the music, until you get a chance to travel to other places and see the influence Chicago has had on the culture.

You’ve cited radio as being an important tool for you in the past. What was its influence for you in discovering music back then?

Initially when I was younger I was glued to radio stations like WBMX. That's where you could hear and record early House music being played by Farley "Funkin" Keith and the rest of the HotMix Five. Then later on listening to more underground DJ's spin on WKKC with DJs like Walter "Get Down" Brown, Bobby "Q" Bobby, Pink House, etc. As far as hip hop I learned a lot of B. side records from listening to WHPK. They had DJ Chilly Q, J.P. Chill, Ice Box, and K-ILL. I was also fortunate to get my hands on some NY tapes from Kool DJ Red-Alert and Marley Marl. I always had a thing for getting exclusive music that not everyone had. It's just in me.

The ‘80s must have been an exciting time to be coming up, what was your progression like as a DJ? Was there a certain genre and sound you were digging in the beginning?

Early on I just used to go over friends houses who had mixing equipment. I didn't have my own decks at this time. This is when I was around 11 or 12 years old. Everyone had a mixture of records from ‘Love Sensation’ by Loletta Holloway, to ‘Din Daa Daa’ by George Kranz, to ‘Boogie Down Bronx’ by Man Parrish. As a whole they weren't using the term ‘house’ to describe the music. DJs would just ask you do you ‘spin’ or do you ‘mix’. I was excited at this time, but I couldn't master the craft of blending two records together on beat. It wasn't until I got my own decks in 1985 that I realized you had to match the snares and hold them.

This is around when me and my childhood friend Dion Wilson aka legendary No I.D. started linking up. We would get together and mix and trade music. I would bring my decks over his crib, and he had a tape deck with a pitch control and reel to reel. This is how we could mix in exclusives that weren't pressed up on vinyl at that time.

We know you’re a big fan of the funkier, disco-tinged side to gospel from the Disco Gospel 12” you released on Mr Bongo alongside Sadar Bahar. What drew you into that sound?

Growing up I always knew there was a funky side of Gospel. The only difference is secular vs non secular lyrics. One of the first groovy gospel records I heard was through my dad when I was young which was ‘Be Grateful’ by the Hawkins family. Then of course Ron Hardy used to kill it with ‘There but For The Grace Of God’ by Machine which is a house music anthem in Chicago. Alicia Myers ‘I Want to Thank You’ is an undeniable classic as well. Tone B. Nimble started pioneering the rare disco gospel digging and he and I are close friends, so it rubbed off on me. I just started looking for a lot of these rare joints along with Sadar who has a big collection of disco gospel too. I found the Twinkie Clark ‘Awake O Zion’ joint for free in a basement clean up years back. I threw it to Sadar and he started killing the festivals with it. Then I saw people trying to chase it down, with it eventually getting reissued. I knew then we were on to something. I'm looking forward to our next Disco Gospel release, Sadar and I have both been digging super hard and believe we have some winners.

You're known for your eclectic approach to DJing, how would you summarise your style?

My ear has matured over the years. I know what sounds good and I feel my taste crosses over to others who feel the same way. I spin everything from rare disco, funk, hip hop break beats, boogie, jazz fusion, Latin, Brazilian, African grooves that rock the dance floor. My sound is eclectic, but my blueprint is Ron Hardy when it comes to rocking the party.

You’ve released a string of edits of hard to come by, largely unheard-of gems. How do you go about finding these records?

I'm always digging and searching for new music. My definition of ‘new music’ is the first time I heard it, not when it was created. So, I actually go to thrift stores, record shops, elderly people's basements. Some DJs only rely on file sharing but that's not me at all. I play 100% vinyl and actually sit and listen to piles of records. It's a form of therapy for me to discover some funky grooves that I haven't heard anyone play out.


Do you think that online digging has changed the way people search for music and the effort they put into it?

It has definitely made it easier. With record companies being so quick to upload back catalogue music to sites like Spotify and not actually re-issuing the vinyl, the song and artist information is reachable to apps like Shazam. The lazy DJ and digger can easily get that information. But I am here to let you know not everything is on Discogs, Youtube, nor Spotify. There are tons of gems not catalogued that you just have to discover the physical copies.

Have you got any particularly interesting digging stories over the years?

I have definitely discovered some rare 45's (7 inches) for dirt cheap and discovered they were going for a hefty penny. I have done some ghost digging for some record labels and record stores overseas and didn't charge them premium price and later discovered they were retailing records triple of what I charged them. It's just the nature of the game.

You spent a number of years living in the UK – what brought you over here and how did you think the scene compared to Chicago at the time?

I think the UK music scene is incredible for the most part. When I first came over to play the Essential Festival at Finsbury Park in London it was an eye opener to a real urban and eclectic music festival that represented multiple music genres. I came with Kool Keith (UltraMagnetic/Dr. Octagon/Black Elvis) so the crowd was really diverse. I returned to London two months later to officially relocate. While I was there, I shopped demos to every record label of some of my productions and other artists. One record in particular I shopped was a house track I produced which featured Kool Keith and adult film legend Heather Hunter. l got rejected by every label in London. But the DJs kept telling me it was a banger! My confidence became sunken for a while but my persistence and need to accomplish my goal superseded that. I eventually hooked up with Hue who worked at the Mr Bongo Record shop in Soho and he pointed me to a pressing plant that manufactured white labels. I pressed up TPs and got it to the DJs and every label who rejected me started calling me to license the record. I ended up closing a deal with Oxygen Music works and later on with Skint Records in Brighton.


Can you tell us a bit more about your Chi-Talo series - the second of which will be dropping on Mr Bongo in 2024? Why did you want to marry those two places and sounds together?

The Chi Talo series is a rare Chicago disco/boogie record paired with a rare Italian (Italo) disco/boogie record. A lot of the early ‘house’ records that were played by Frankie Knuckles, Ron Hardy, and Farley "Funken" Keith were actually produced in Italy by Italian artists. Artists such as Klein and MBO, Trillogy, Capricorn have created some classic Chicago house anthems whether they know it or not.

When you went to Imports Etc back in the day they had this slightly pinkish/redish stamp that was on the label that let you know it wasn't from the USA. My Chi Talo series just continues in that same tradition. The very first one did exceptionally well and is still sought after from a lot of collectors. I'm hoping Volume 2 does just as well or better. I believe Mr Bongo will help take it to the next level.

In your opinion what makes for a good edit?

I believe a good edit should sound natural. It shouldn't sound like a bunch of forced loops. It should sound like it was naturally sequenced by the original band or producer. I'm kind of a stickler when it comes to this.

How did you come to work with the Ultramagnetic MC’s?

I have known Ultra personally for over 30 years. I actually was a fan of their music early on, myself, Common, and No I.D. used to rock them religiously. I eventually wanted to meet them and called their label Mercury Polygram and got Ced-Gee's number by telling them I wanted him to produce my album. I got super cool with them and when Common was looking for a record deal I linked him up with Ced-Gee to help him out. My relationship with them led to me closing some record deals and licensing deals and releasing rare music of theirs on Black Pegasus. In 2021 I co-designed UltraMagnetic Sneakers with my partner Pritt Kalsi through an Ewing Athletic collaboration.

Can you tell us a bit about the projects you have worked on outside of music? Do you have any advice for young DJs and collectors out there?

I have a few things going. I have recently designed a Common 33 Hi Sneaker again with Pritt Kalsi that dropped in December 2023. This is the follow up to the UltraMagnetic Sneaker. We are the Busy Bodies working on different projects. I also curated a Common Action figure with Hip Hop Toyz. We have some film projects we are in the process of shopping and I believe they will get picked up. I'm just trying to stay busy and productive and most importantly creative.

I will just advise younger DJs to do a bit of homework and look at the history of the DJs who came before them. You must keep practicing to hone your craft. It doesn't happen overnight. It's important to keep practicing, improve and hopefully you can be successful.


A massive thanks to Marc for taking the time to speak to us for this feature. Chi Talo Volume 2 on Mr Bongo is available for pre-order here - shipping 1st March 2024.

Make sure follow Marc on Instagram for the latest updates on what he has got in the works.